Bookkeeper charged with defrauding small business
Alleged $300,000 fraud nearly bankrupted employer
Indianapolis – United States Attorney Josh Minkler today announced that Erica Howard, 30, of Indianapolis, was charged with wire fraud for a two-year scheme to siphon funds from her employer, a family-owned construction company in Franklin, Indiana. Howard, who has prior convictions for fraud, forgery, and theft, has agreed to plead guilty to the federal felony charge.
“Fraud on a small business often impacts much more than the bottom line,” Minkler said. “It can costs people good jobs, as it did here. It also breeds distrust, especially when the fraud is perpetrated by a trusted employee. People who exploit a position of trust for purely personal gain will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.”
Just months after starting as bookkeeper, Howard allegedly began diverting company money to herself. According to the federal charges, she abused her access to company accounts online to pay over a dozen personal credit cards and buy electronics and other items on Amazon.
Howard allegedly concealed her fraud for over two years. Entrusted with keeping the company books, she never noted her personal uses of company funds. Then, each year, she delivered the false books to the company’s accountant, along with a set of phony bank statements that she had manipulated to make the numbers match.
Howard’s fraud was finally discovered when a company check bounced. By then, she had allegedly funneled over $315,000 in company money to herself. The company’s owners were forced to lay off workers and liquidate retirement savings to keep the business afloat.
Following an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Franklin Police Department, Howard agreed to plead guilty to the federal wire fraud charge. According to Assistant United States Attorney Nick Linder, who prosecuted this case for the government, Howard faces up to 20 years in federal prison and an order to pay restitution for the full amount she stole.
“The FBI takes our responsibility to investigate and pursue those who commit fraud for personal gain very seriously," said Robert Middleton, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Indianapolis Division. “We will continue working with our law enforcement partners to hold accountable those who use illegal means and criminal behavior to take advantage of others.”
In October 2017, United States Attorney Josh J. Minkler announced a Strategic Plan designed to shape and strengthen the District’s response to its most significant public safety challenges. This prosecution demonstrates the office’s firm commitment to utilize and partner with law enforcement agencies to prosecute individuals engaged in complex fraud schemes. See United States Attorney’s Office, Southern District of Indiana Strategic Plan Section 5.1.